Olivia Langdon Clemens

Olivia Langdon Clemens

Olivia Langdon Clemens (November 27, 1845June 5, 1904) was the wife of the famous American author, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

Early life

Olivia Langdon was born in 1845 in Elmira, New York to Jervis Langdon and Olivia Lewis Langdon. Jervis was a very wealthy coal businessman. The family was religious, reformist, and abolitionist. Olivia, called Livy, was educated by a combination of home tutoring and classes at Thurston’s Female Seminary and Elmira Female College. Her health was poor. Between she was an invalid for part of her teenage years, and she suffered from what was probably tuberculosis myelitis or Pott's disease. She continued to have health problems throughout her life.

Courtship and Wedding

Langdon met Samuel Clemens in December 1867 through her brother Charles. Their first date was to a reading by Charles Dickens in New York City. Clemens courted her throughout 1868, mainly by letter. She rejected his first proposal of marriage, but they became engaged two months later, in November 1868. The engagement was announced in February 1869, and in February 1870, they were married. The wedding was in Elmira, and the ceremony was performed by the Congregational ministers Joseph Twitchell and Thomas K. Beecher.

Life After Marriage

Olivia and Samuel moved to Buffalo, New York, where they lived in a house purchased for them by Olivia’s father Jervis. Life was difficult for them at first. Jervis Langdon died of cancer in August. He was followed a month later by Olivia’s friend Emma Nye, who died in the Clemens’ home. Their first child, Langdon Clemens, was born in November, but was premature. Olivia contracted typhoid fever, and became very ill. They moved to Elmira, so that Olivia’s family could watch over her and Langdon.

In 1871, the family moved again, to Hartford, Connecticut. They rented a large house in the Nook Farm neighborhood, and quickly became important members of the social and literary scene there. They were well off due to Samuel Clemens’ earnings from his books and lectures, and Olivia’s inheritance, and they lived lavishly. In 1874, they moved into a distinctive house that they’d had built on land they purchased. They lived there until 1891.

Langdon, their son, died in 1872, a year and a half after his birth. Three daughters were born – Olivia Susan in 1872, Clara in 1874, and Jane in 1880. Olivia Susan was called Susy, and Jane was called Jean.

The family left for Europe in 1891, and lived there for four years. This was mainly caused by financial need – Samuel’s investments in a publishing company and the Paige compositor lost money, and the family’s expenses were catching up with them. They permanently closed up the Hartford house, and spent the four years in various temporary accommodations. In 1894, Samuel was forced to declare bankruptcy. Olivia was given “preferred creditor” status, and all Samuel’s copyrights were assigned to her. These measures saved the family’s financial future.

In 1895 and 1896, Olivia and her daughter Clara accompanied Samuel on his around-the-world lecture tour. The next year, their daughter Susy died of spinal meningitis at age 23, a devastating blow to Olivia. The family lived in Switzerland, Austria, and England until 1902. They then returned to the United States, and lived in Riverdale, New York, arranging to move into a house in Tarrytown. Olivia’s health began getting worse. She was advised to keep a distance from her husband, and the two went months without seeing each other. By the end of 1903, doctors’ advice led the Clemens to move to Italy, for the warm climate. They resided in a villa outside of Florence. Olivia died there from heart failure in June 1904. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira.

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